Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I saw a disturbing movie last night – Forks Over Knives. It’s a doc about ... well, eating plants... which I have nothing against. Except that it’s also about not eating animals or their products (ie. eggs and dairy).

It was amazing to watch, this film, which profiled a couple of doctors who, though raised on dairy farms, came to the same conclusion through years of study and experience: a whole food, plant-based diet can save you from a world of hurt... like cancer and heart disease, for a start.

It is disconcerting how easy it should be... just eat plants and whole grains and your health, in most cases, should improve in tangible ways. You should feel better and last longer.

At the same time, it is disconcertingly difficult. Much of what my family now eats would be out of the question. No delicious burgers or gooey cheese pizza... Even chicken and fish are off limits, as well as olive oil. I thought olive oil was supposed to be good for you, right? I can’t even begin to imagine what we would eat for dinner every night – especially since Bill has 3 entrĂ©es he will eat as it is.

Also, I spent so much time earlier in my life watching every morsel that went into my mouth that I don’t know if I could go back there. It made me crazy. Literally. Do I want to be crazy again? Not really.

Another think I think about it is that sticking to it religiously would involve trampling on the basic rules of hospitality whenever you go to someone else’s house. I think St. Paul instructed fellow evangelists to eat whatever they were served when they were guests in someone else’s home... Which is basic good manners... unless you are, say, deathly allergic to peanuts and they are serving PBJ’s.

I know that all my “excuses” are pretty stupid, because I’m basically saying, “It’s too inconvenient to prevent cancer and heart disease.” But it really is inconvenient! And I’m already stretched thin... So right now, I'm just going do the best I can to eat more plants, and maybe not so many animals. I can do that. I think.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hit Bull Win Steak. Hit Grass Win Salad.

I thought the sign that says "Hit Bull Win 
Steak / Hit Grass Win Salad" was an old 
ballpark tradition... Turns out it's a piece of 
scenery from the Bull Durham movie. 
If someone hits a home run,the bull's eyes
light up and smoke comes out of his nose. 
It's awesome.
Our family is far from perfect... What family is? We have our share of dysfunction, but one thing you can say is, we know how to have a good time. Sure, sometimes we have to force Bill to quit playing legos and have a good time with us, but once we’re there, it’s usually a gas.

Last night we went to a Durham Bulls baseball game, and, well, it rarely gets any better than that. We’re not a sporty family – my husband is a Mets fan and occasionally catches a game on TV, but that’s the sum total of the sports being watched at our house. But a live Bulls game — this is a different thing altogether.

If you’re not from around here, you may not be hip to this uniquely Durham experience. You can catch a whiff of it by watching the film Bull Durham, which has Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins as minor league baseball players for the Durham Bulls. It was filmed in Durham at the old Bulls stadium, and for a while had us all caught up in a Hollywood frenzy.
Tim Robbins and Kevin
Costner in
Bull Durham

The locals, including my husband and my sister’s ex-boyfriend, got to be extras, and it wasn’t unusual to see Susan Sarandon or Tim Robbins out at the Cat’s Cradle... But I’m not here to talk about the movie, just to give people from out of town a reference point. 

The Bulls now play out of a newer park — very nice, pretty clean. The first thing we do once we arrive is buy Bill a snow cone and sit down on one of the terraces while he and Tom eat it. The snow cones I am talking about are huge mounds of syrupy crushed ice, so it takes them a while. While they are busy turning their lips red or blue with the snow cone, Mom stands in line for a beer – usually a nice, frosty, local microbrew. In my experience, a beer at a baseball stadium on hot summer evening is the most delicious beer you can quaff.
Bill and his snow cone.

Then we find our seats and watch for a while while we decide what we’re going to eat next. And it’s not just watching dudes in knickers playing a sport... it’s innings of baseball interspersed with crazy things like a dog running the bases or a couple of people in those huge sumo wrestler suits bouncing off each other. Which is funny every time. Especially if you are drinking a beer. They play songs – sometimes it’s John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” ... an awesome tune. And then if someone hits a home run or does something spectacular, they play that song by Gary Glitter, “Rock’n Roll Part 2,” which, I don’t care if it’s uncool to say so, is a really great song, and perfect for the occasion. 
Wool E. Bull

They have the traditional organ interludes... Take Me Out to the Ball Game, the “CHARGE” tune, the Addams Family jingle... And the people around you – a diverse crowd spanning a huge demographic range – they really get into it, shouting “CHARGE!” and singing along with the songs... laughing at those cute little graphics on the “Big Blue Monster,” which is really nothing but a big blue expanse of wall on which they have the video screen, the scoreboard and a bunch of billboard ads for sponsors. Sometimes they have people dressed up in mascot suits – Wool E. Bull is always there, and we've also seen Spongebob, Dora the Explorer and Yogi Bear.

And then there’s the food. We are at the stadium at roughly dinnertime, but all standard “dinner” rules go out the window. For instance, for my “dinner” I had the previously mentioned beer, some delicious, greasy fries and some extra-salty popcorn... and the rest of Bill’s grilled cheese sandwich. The Bulls park has great food... lots of yummy eats, including local barbecue. Not your standard dye-the-bun-red wienies at our park! And, like beer, food tastes better at a ballpark – just like Humphrey Bogart said: “A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz.”

Of course, we had the good fortune to be under an awning, shielded from the blazing North Carolina sun. The heat and humidity sometimes detract from the total experience... but that’s what the ice cold beverages are for... 

Dudes in knickers playing a sport.
Well, now that I have written this, I am thinking I may have to backtrack because, really, I’ve never been to a baseball game anywhere else. It might not be just a Durham Bulls thing. For all I know, these things might be happening just this way all over the country... 

And I don’t have any spiritual nuggets to dispense about baseball or anything, although I’m sure there’s something in there... like, If you build it, he will come.” I just wanted to describe it a little bit and thank God for creating the man who invented baseball, and all the other folks who have turned it into a delicious spectacle.

(All photos except the Bull Durham one were taken by my husband, who is a pretty good photographer!)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Surrender Dorothy!

There’s a concept that I have absolutely no understanding of, even though it is pretty important if you don’t want to drive yourself crazy while you are trying to live a Christian life. And that is surrender. I understand that I am supposed to do it – let go and let God and all that... But really, what does it look like?

Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That’s awesome, but how do I know if anything I am doing is “through Christ” or just me? I’ve heard that if you’re doing things through Christ, you shouldn’t be tired, but... let’s say I’m tired. How do I give it over? Really – I’m asking. If you know, please tell me. 

I remember expressing this to a friend one time and he said, “You don’t have to know how to do it, just tell God you want to but don’t know how.” So, I’m guessing, opening a channel to God is crucial to the process.

The most practical description of the process I ever heard was actually in Eric Clapton’s autobiography: 

Eric Clapton. Guess what? He's not God!
“The noise in my head was deafening, and drinking was in my thoughts all the time. It shocked me to realize that here I was in a treatment center, a supposedly safe environment, and I was in serious danger. I was absolutely terrified, in complete despair.

Almost of their own accord, my legs gave way and I fell to my knees. In the privacy of my room I begged for help. I had no notion of whom I thought I was talking to—I just knew that I had come to the end of my tether, and I had nothing left to fight with. Then I remembered what I had heard about surrender, something I thought I could never do, that my pride just wouldn’t allow it. But I knew that on my own I wasn’t going to make it, so I asked for help, and, getting down on my knees, I surrendered.”

I guess that, though Clapton has told of a previous born-again experience, he doesn’t have all the Christian-ese to wrap his surrender story in, and that’s what makes it so clear and approachable. I find it kind of funny that a man of whom some say, “Eric Clapton is god” gave me a pretty good description of a man saying, “I’m not God.”

So, is surrender, then, just getting on your knees and saying, “I need You” to God? I have done this countless times, but I am pretty sure that in life, I am running on my own steam plenty of times. I AM exhausted after all... or maybe I’m just exhausted because I’m 49 and have a 7-year-old, my own business and a house to keep...? 

So, if I desire to take hold of this elusive (to me) Christian virtue called surrender, what would I do differently? If you know, please share. 

Now here’s Bono, the Edge, Larry and Adam to play us out: 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lenny Bruce is not afraid

That's right, it starts with an earthquake.... Yes, folks we had an earthquake. Sort of. If you ask me, it felt more like a big truck riding past the house... But it did feel like something! Now there’s a hurricane coming. I’m praying that it stays to the east of us as is being predicted, but you never know. We do need the rain...

William Blake's Four Horsemen
It all sounds... downright apocalyptic, doncha know. And, funnily enough, I’ve been reading the Revelation of St. John lately ... That is some heavy stuff, I’ll tell you! It’s at once beautiful and terrifying. I don’t doubt that John’s vision was real, and I have the feeling that the meanings are both literal and symbolic.

I’m not going to go into detail, but it involves the legendary four horsemen – conquest, war, famine and death. And people begging for mountains to crush them to put them out of their misery... And blood. Lots of blood.

Now, I know there are lots of points of view on this... Historical Premillennialism, Dispensational Premillennialism, Amillennialism, Postmillennialism, Preterism, No Millennialism... and theories within those theories. My theory: I don’t know-ism. 

Jesus Himself said, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” And I’m comfortable with that. My only fear is that I won’t know what’s going on when it finally occurs, and I won’t respond appropriately.

Fernado Ortega
Jesus also said, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.”

So what if I follow the wrong dude? Or fail to follow the right Dude? What if I get suckered in like everyone else? (It reminds me of a really sweet song by Fernando Ortega – Don’t Let Me Come Home A Stranger: Don’t let me come home a stranger / I couldn’t stand to be a stranger / Lord, save me from this darkest fear).

All I can do is pray. And try to get to know Jesus now, so I will be able to tell the real from the false. Beyond that, I think it’s best not to dwell on it... I know perfectly good people who have become a little nutty chewing over this stuff too much. I’m ready to be raptured whenever the time is right, but until then, I’ve got stuff to do, and a lot of things to tell you!

Monday, August 22, 2011


The Tardis
I love my ringtone. If I were near you and my cell phone were to ring, you might think that the Tardis — Doctor Who’s spaceship/time travel machine — was landing. ( Having that raspy, grating sound as a ringer is a silly prank, but it amuses me. Of course, it’s a joke with a limited audience... Not everyone is down with The Doctor. But I am. 

Doctor Who is a British TV show that has been around since the early sixties, and for British people, it’s like... the Andy Griffith Show. Or Star Wars. It’s a huge part of British culture. Its main character is, of course, The Doctor – a “Time Lord” from the late planet Gallifrey, who spends his time in a blue phone booth traveling through time and space. He might look an awful lot like a human earthling, but there are two hearts beating inside that chest, my friend. One of other the features of a “Time Lord” is that he doesn’t die, he “regenerates,” which is a sciency-wiency way of saying, “We have a new actor.”

The annoying Tom Baker
They used to show Doctor Who on PBS when I was a teenager but I didn’t watch it then. I found it vaguely annoying with that kind of nutty/nerdy curly headed guy with the stripey scarf. I have to say that I just didn’t get it. Of course now, that Doctor, played by Tom Baker, has a sort of geek-hip cachet, but... I still find him annoying.

In the early part of this decade, though, they revived the show... and these are the shows I love. There have been three Doctors so far in this series, all of them awesome. It’s still kind of a nutty, nerdy show, but it sometimes wrestles with themes like time, choices, duty, and humanity.

The first Doctor in this new series was played by Christopher Eccleston, a really top drawer actor... He was goofy and fun, but only signed on for a year of shows. Then David Tennant took over – he is slight and cute... and his version of the Doctor was energetic and a ton of fun, but could also show a very heavy side – rage and loneliness. 

David Tennant, my
favourite Doctor
The latest Doctor is ... well, he’s a child – just 27 years old. His name is Matt Smith, and while I love the joy he brings to the role, it is hard for me to accept him as a 900-something-year-old Time Lord who constantly saves the Universe. I was trying to figure out why, and I think it just might be because, during the David Tennant years, I began to imagine that the Doctor was a little bit like Jesus. Not in a sacrilegious way, but... more that he’s very old, completely brilliant, and comes to earth to save humanity.

Other aliens often question the Doctor’s fondness for humanity... why does he so often return to earth to save and defend its creatures? The Doctor often praises our species for its indomitable spirit... and for him, I think it is often more personal – he chooses humans to go with him on his travels, and though he pretends to be detached, he does “fall in love” with them.
Likewise, Jesus came to earth to save the crazy human race – became one of us, made specific friends with some... and did what he came to do – save the universe. Only the Doctor does it over and over. 

Jesus, of course, saved us one and for all, but ... could they make a series out of it if Doctor Who saved the world and sat down and took a load off? This is TV, right? That's more of a Christmas special than a series... Jesus’s personality was also described in the Bible as quite a bit more subdued than the Doctor’s. The Doctor is what the British might call “cheeky.”

When confronting a gassy race of ruthless aliens:
The Doctor: Would you mind not farting when I’m saving the world?”

On a trip back in time to 18th century France:
King Louis: What the hell is going on? 
Reinette Poisson: Oh. This is my lover, the king of France. 
The Doctor: Yeah? Well I’m the Lord of Time.

When asked, “Who do you think you are?:”
The Doctor: I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the Constellation of Kasterborous. I’m 903 years old and I’m the man who is gonna save your lives and all 6 billion people on the planet below. You got a problem with that? 
Rickston Slade: No. 
The Doctor: In that case, allons-y.

I can’t imagine Jesus giving answers like this, but he was pretty “cheeky” or he might not have ticked off the authorities quite so much. And even though his answers were always calmly delivered, Jesus did speak with confidence and authority, much like our Doctor. (Although I would have loved to hear Jesus corralling his disciples with the Doctor’s enthusiastic, “Allons-y!”)

Matt Smith: Too young to save the world?
While we’re comparing, they even had this one episode where the Doctor was acting as a human – and then had to choose whether he was going to remain human and have a normal life, get married, have children, etc., or be who he was and save the world. They had a little series of alternate reality scenes of him marrying and growing old as a human... just like in the Last Temptation of Christ! Of course, like Jesus, the Doctor chooses to save the world instead...

A new series starts on BBCAmerica pretty soon, and I for one, can’t wait. Even though Matt Smith seems a little young to save the world, the writing is always good, and it always manages to take the viewer somewhere unexpected. It’s a wild ride... hmm... sort of like following Jesus...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sing it, Brenda!

Are they still saying that we can have it all? Job, career, family... Because if they are, I have a thing or two say to “them.” Whoever they are.

I never gave much thought to feminist issues until I became a mother... and saw first hand what mothers go through. I was raised in the 70s, and there was lots of feminism floating around – the idea that we girls could grow up to be anything... even the President of the United States! Well, no one likes to be limited, but I can tell you it was a relief to me when I realized that, while I CAN be POTUSA, I don’t HAVE to! It just sounded like too much responsibility for me.

I was single for a long time – like Mary Tyler Moore or That Girl! — so I only had to take care of myself, which I know now, was a piece of cake! But now, I feel for women all over the world, and all the things that are expected of them...  

I am not complaining, just observing. It’s not new... Proverbs 31 outlines the qualities of a “good woman.” Look it up. If you’re a woman, it’ll make you tired just reading it. The woman it describes, well, she’s trusting, generous, never spiteful, an early riser, a shrewd shopper, a smart businesswoman, a hard worker, helpful, charitable and keeps her  man’s reputation in the town spotless. She runs a tight ship, working from dawn ‘til dusk, but still manages to be a good conversationalist and design and make her own clothing. And she has strength, dignity and fear of the Lord. 

A t-shirt you can actually buy...
but I'm not sure why you would.
It would be a lot to live up to.
Well, I can tell you right now, out of those qualities, I have maybe... a couple — on a good day! There are plenty of days that I feel lucky to go from dawn to dusk without slapping somebody!

I guess the modern day equivalent would be a woman who could, as they say, bring home the bacon and proceed to fry it up in a pan, never letting her dude forget he’s a man... (ENJOLI!) It’s a little depressing... not a bit unlike looking at a leggy, airbrushed fashion model in a magazine who, in the interview says, “I NEVER diet or exercise...”

This chapter of the book of Proverbs is described as “the sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.” Well, I don’t know who King Lemuel was, but his mother sure gave him some impossible expectations for whatever poor woman he married. We can only hope she was merely recommending a wise, industrious wife over a pretty, idle wife.

I notice 1. the chapter begins with: “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” So women matching the following description must be few and far between. And 2. the chapter ends with: “...a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

I like this because I think that far too often the work of women goes unnoticed. I know women who barely sit down all day, women who keep the world of their home spinning like Meadowlark Lemon spun a basketball. Some make it look easy (not me, but some women!), but I know how hard they are working... 

I don’t really know where I am going with this, only to say... If you are one of these women who is busting her hump trying to keep it all together... well, I feel for you. Way to go! Well done you! And if you know a woman like this... appreciate her. Out loud.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Guess I'm Counting on His Divine Intervention

Let's start with a rockin' good tune ('cos you may think that everything that follows is pure-T crazy):

Now, since you may not already think I’m crazy enough, I’m going to tell you about some times I feel that I actually encountered the Living God. The world is full of people who will say, “God told me this” and “I had a word from the Lord that...” but how often does this really happen? I’m no expert in divine intervention, but in my own experience, it is very rare and often very subtle. 

Yet there are a handful of times where I am convinced that God “spoke” to me... Two incidents really stand out to me. One occurred when I was a brand spankin' new Christian and began dating a guy who was an atheist or an agnostic or... just not interested... He was a very nice person, very solicitous of my preferences, and we had common interests, so we spent a good deal of time together. We even went on a trip ... but in the middle of the three-day trip I suddenly felt like ... I just couldn’t breathe. 

I realized later that it was what they call the “conviction of the Spirit.” I suddenly knew that the relationship was not what God wanted for me, and that I should get out of it. Of course, we were 5 hours from home, so... I didn’t feel like rocking the boat right away... But the whole day I found myself pretty much unable to talk. I tried to maintain a pleasant demeanor, and answer questions politely, but that was all I could manage, really. Finally at the end of the day, I told the very sweet guy that we couldn’t keep dating... Of course he was very kind about it, because that’s the kind of guy he is. And it was rotten of me... but I’m telling you, the relief I felt was like plunging into a waterfall on a scorching hot day. I will go so far as to say it was a physical feeling. Maybe it could be explained as simply as this: I had a severe attack of conscience, and then felt relieved. But I like to think it was a real intervention. Maybe because I like to think that God actually cares about my development...?

Reynolds Price
The other incident occurred when, after years of tightly controlled eating (or not eating, as the case may be,) I started to eat and eat and eat. My mind thought I just needed to regain control, but ... I think that God knew what I actually needed – rest. I woke up in the middle of the night knowing that I needed to take a long rest from my strenuous workouts. It was something I could never have come up with on my own, but it was very real. Resting and feeding my hungry, exhausted body provided just the healing I needed.

These are my big two. You will meet other people who will tell you how they have encountered Jesus. The late writer Reynolds Price, just before he began radiation treatment after having a 10-inch tumor removed, had a dream of Jesus baptizing, forgiving, healing him. C.S. Lewis’s wife Joy Davidman was struggling with her alcoholic first husband and trying to raise two young boys when she had a clear sense of a “presence” in the room with her at one dark point in her life. Later when she began to read the Bible, she recognized Jesus as the one who had been in her room.

For most people, encounters with God are not so much like Paul being struck blind on the road to Damascus, but more like... that still small voice you always hear about... or a feeling – like in Wim Wenders' movie “Wings of Desire” where a person feels a sense of peace when an angel stands next to him... or an idea that you never would have had on your own. 

There are other, less striking times that I felt like maybe God was close by (of course He’s always there - maybe I’m just not feeling Him)... I read a book called “The Sacrament of the Present Moment” by Jean Pierre de Caussade which held that God is speaking to us and leading us in every moment, we just need to listen. It’s a beautiful thought but I wondered, “Is God really involved with the minutiae of my daily life?” I was thinking this as I was getting dressed for work and started to debate in my mind over whether His inspiration could show me what to wear. I was working at a jeans-and-t-shirts type place, and the t-shirt my hand settled on was one from Tom Petty’s “Full Moon Fever” tour, featuring a drawing of a cow jumping over the moon. And during that day at work, people in every department made comments or gave me compliments about it... I’m not saying that God was necessarily behind my shirt selection, but I wouldn’t be surprised if He wanted to me know that He COULD be part of something so small.

Another time I was driving in the car, pondering over the big decision of getting married and the song “Hey Jude” came on the radio... “Hey Jude, don’t be afraid / You were made to go out and get her / The minute you let her under your skin / Then you begin to make it better” I know it’s silly, but I felt like I was being personally addressed. Of course you’d have to substitute “her” with “him,” but it worked for me!

St. John of the Cross
I also want to add that there have also been times when I wondered where God was... I was inconsolable and could not detect God’s presence in any way... I believe this is what St. John of the Cross called, the “Dark Night of the Soul.” I am thankful that such times don’t go on forever... Usually some type of resolution is reached, satisfying or not. I always learn something, anyway.

You see, I think that it’s not that God CAN’T show up for us, or doesn’t WANT to jump in and fix all our problems... I think it’s that He wants us to learn and grow, and stretch our faith. I imagine it’s like me wanting to rescue and help my kid with every little thing... If I keep doing that, how’s he ever going to learn?

Sure it would be a lot easier if God just showed Himself all the time, and went around fixing all our problems, but ... what would our faith be worth then? And even if I’m making it all up in my head, then... well, I guess that shows God that I believe He’s the awesome and sweet kind of God who care about me enough to show up in person occasionally... Come to think of it, isn’t that what He did a couple thousand years ago?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Get jiggy with it!

Since you already know what a huge nerd I am, I’m going to keep talking about church... and I promise I don’t plan to talk about it forever, I just thought I’d talk about the astounding variety of styles I’ve sampled on the worship smorgasbord... 

The church I grew up in: Wear a dress or suit, sit quietly with hands in lap, sing the hymns and speak only during the creeds and responsive readings. Songs are formal hymns, sermon comes from the lectionary. The church I’m in now... Wear what you like, sit quietly during the sermon, but during the songs, do what you like. Sing the melody, sing the harmony, raise your hands, keep your hands folded, dance, stand still... Some people do dress up and whatnot – my husband, for instance, wears a coat and tie because that’s his raisin’. I wear a dress, but only because I have great legs (ba-dum-bum.) But really no one has to doll up. Most people show up on the dressy side of casual, but some are rocking jeans and t-shirts. I like the variety! Sermons are preacher’s choice – sometimes we’ll go through a whole book of the Bible a little at a time, over several months. Sometimes it’s a topical series.

Our music is kind of rockin’ too, so being able to open up in worship is sort of a logical place to go. I guess if you’re just singing hymns to organ accompaniment, you’re not naturally going to groove. Our church is also just the smallest bit charismatic, ie. no glossolalia is happening (tongue-speaking), but people do feel free to lift up their hands. There is even the occasional “Amen” uttered during the sermon.

I didn’t always get groovy at church... (Remember in the movie Superstar when Jesus, played by Will Ferrell tells Mary Catherine Gallagher to “Get jiggy with it”?) When I first came to this church, I thought it was kind of creepy. But only because I’d never seen anyone raise their hands before while they were singing in church. I was so clueless that I wondered at first if I had stumbled into a cult! I learned later that our church is on the conservative side of charismatic. Elsewhere folks are banging tamborines, speaking in tongues and being slain in the Spirit!

(I always thought it was funny that the song “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by the Crash Test Dummies  describes being raised in a charismatic family as being worse that having an unexplainable physical deformity: “But both girl and boy were glad / ‘Cause one kid had it worse than that / ‘Cause then there was this boy whose / Parents made him come directly home right after school / And when they went to their church / They shook and lurched all over the church floor / He couldn’t quite explain it / They’d always just gone there.”)

Back to my topic: When I lived in Asheville I went to a church that was so mellow and casual that it seemed more like a coffeehouse than a service. The people wore jeans and the pastor – also decked out in jeans, hiking boots and a flannel shirt – spoke in a conversational tone and is one of the best preachers I ever heard. At the same time, though, it was quite a traditional church – they sang hymns and learned the Westminster chatechism.

I love to visit churches when I travel... just to see how the different people do church. I went to All Souls in London, where the famous writer John Stott was Pastor Emeritus; I went to the socially active, gospel-singing Glide Memorial in San Francisco, which was featured in the Will Smith movie “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

The most interesting worship service I ever visited was at a charismatic Episcopal church outside of Chicago. It was an interesting mix – ritual and tradition mixed with... spirit and great feeling. I don’t even remember what particular songs they sang, but their singing was so haunting and beautiful... hard to describe... they would keep singing and humming after the song had ended, as if the Spirit was carrying their voices.

My son goes to a Catholic school, and when I planned to visit Mass one day, he told me, “Mommy, no one holds their hands up, so don’t do that.” I thought that was funny, but when I was at the actual Mass, I realized that they do use the body in worship – it’s just built in to the service. You stand and kneel and hold hands at certain times, not “as the Spirit moves you.” I personally didn’t feel much Spirit moving, but I have no doubt that it could happen. He can move anywhere and anyhow He pleases, right?

Tammy Wynette...
justified and ancient.
The church is old (in the words of Tammy Wynette with KLF, “justified and ancient”), and full of all types of people, who have shaped it in all types of ways in their quest to love and worship God together. So no matter where you come from, high church, low church, no church... If you want to, you can most likely find a place where you can lose yourself in worship. Go with the familiar – or step outside yourself and try something completely different... all that worship is going the same place anyway... from your mouth to God’s ears.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Love Shack bay-bee...

How weird is this? Yesterday I’m writing about how the church has to love you, and then... I see a movie called “Lars and the Real Girl.” Its premise is sort of creepy, but what it is, is a beautiful picture of a church behaving how it should.

In the movie, Lars is a young man, damaged by the death of his mother and the grief of his father, who lives in an outbuilding behind the home of his brother Gus and his pregnant wife, Karin.

He wants to be alone, but is clearly lonely. So when an office mate shows him a site where you can order a fairly lifelike, life sized sex doll, well, that’s just what he does. When she arrives in the mail, Lars is just messed up enough to think and act as if she is real. To him, she is a deeply religious former missionary. He names her Bianca and takes her to dinner at Gus and Karin’s, where he includes her in the dinnertime conversation. Sounds bizarre, right?

His family is disturbed - no, freaked out - about this strange turn of events, and ... naturally, they go first, to a doctor, and then... to the church.

The following discussion takes place after Gus and Karin have told their 
Bible Study Class about Bianca and Lars. The class, all humble, nerdy-looking people in their 50’s and 60’s and 70’s, are bemused. Here is their conversation:

MR. HOFSTEDTLER: We don’t want anything to do with her. She’s a golden calf. Remember what happened with THAT.
MR. SHAW: He’s not worshipping her, they’re just dating.
MRS. SCHINDLER: She’s a missionary. That’s good, isn’t it?
MRS. PETERSEN: I never heard of such a thing!
MR. SHAW: But if we go along, are we encouraging bad habits?
MR. HOFSTEDTLER: These young people have no will power.
KARIN: We thought if we came to you, you could help--pave the way--a little. If you could try to understand. Please.
The group mumbles, not knowing what to do. Mrs. Gruner gets impatient.
BIBLE STUDY CLASS: Well, I don’t know ... never thought something like this ... shouldn’t expose the children ... but if he needs help ... belongs in a loony bin ...
MRS. GRUNER: Oh, for heaven’s sake, what’s the big deal? (to Mrs. Schindler) Sally, your cousin puts dresses on his cats. (to Mrs. Petersen) Hazel, your nephew gave all his money to a UFO club. (to Mr. Hofstedtler) Arnie, everybody knows your first wife was a klepto.
MR. HOFSTEDTLER: She wasn’t!
MRS. GRUNER: Then how come she’s buried in a pair of my earrings?
REVEREND BOCK Now, that’s enough now.
MRS. GRUNER: These things happen. Lars is a good boy. You can depend on me.
GUS: Thank you, Mrs. Gruner.
MR. HOFSTEDTLER: Well, he can’t bring her to church, can he, Reverend Bock? Absolutely not.
The others look at Reverend Bock.
REVEREND BOCK: The question is, what would Jesus do?

The next scene shows Karin, Gus, Lars and Bianca sitting in a row at church on Sunday. 

See? That’s what I’m talking about! Lars is a broken man, and while the church people’s discussion contains typical reactions, shock, fear, pity, Scripture-quoting... it concludes with grace and genuine desire to do God’s will. The people not only agree to embrace Lars in all his brokenness, but eventually add Bianca herself to their congregation with enthusiasm and joy – putting her on committees, signing her up for charity work... So, not only do you not have to be “fixed” before you go to their church... you don’t even have to be real! Once surrounded by the church’s love and grace, Lars begins to heal, and eventually, to grow past his need for his stand-in girlfriend.

As a person who does not have her stuff together by any stretch of the imagination, it is a real relief to me that a place like this exists. Sometimes in my head I call it the Love Shack... like that old B-52s song.

“The Love Shack is a little old place where we can get together – Love Shack baby, Love Shack bay-bee...”